When Jason Barnum took over as head coach of Ocosta High School’s fastpitch team, it’s safe to say he inherited a struggling Wildcats’ program.
“All we did that first week and half was teach the girls how to throw and how to field ground balls,” Barnum said. “We had a ways to go.”
The Wildcats have no seniors on their roster. But, that hasn’t proved to be a problem as they have been pushing runs across home plate at a torrid pace this season – all with the hopes of powering Ocosta to the program’s first ever trip to the Class 2B state playoffs.
“It’s definitely been a work in progress here. We’ve just keep trying to improve each season,” Barnum said. “We went from 10 wins the first year to 15 the next year to 18 last year and won our first ever district playoff game. The entire team has just bought into what we are trying to accomplish.”
The Wildcats opened this year by winning their first 13 games, posting blow-out after blow-out. They finally stumbled in a 6-5 non-league loss to 1A Forks in a game where they collected 18 hits and had a chance late to pull out the victory – giving Barnum plenty of positives to draw from despite suffering the loss.
That setback ended a winning streak which saw the team outscore the opposition by the eye-popping combined score of 251 to 22. During its dominating run, Ocosta scored double digits in all 13 games and registered 20 or more runs a remarkable seven times.
“We spend a lot of time working on hitting,” Barnum said. “The girls show up at 5:30 a.m. during the week and practice until 7 a.m. just on hitting alone.”
It’s certainly paid off as the Wildcats sport a team batting average of .378.
Just three seasons ago, Barnum and his staff needed to dip into the junior high and pull in some eighth graders simply to field a squad. Those players, including Barnum’s daughter, Kaylee, have gone from green to white-hot at the plate over the course of three years.
Kaylee Barnum paces the Wildcats’ offense, hitting a team-high .657 with 12 home runs in 13 games. The sophomore drove in eight runs in a single game, launching two home runs in the same inning during Ocosta’s 23-0 victory over South Bend.
Kristi Raffelson, Maria Campos and Camryn Scheuber join Kaylee Barnum to comprise a loaded sophomore class.
On the mound, Ocosta has relied on pitchers Erika Snider, a junior, and freshman Mekenna Fletcher. Remarkably, the duo tossed back-to-back no hitters on the same day during a double header against South Bay.
Last year, the Wildcats saw their season come to an end at the district tournament following an 18-3 loss to Onalaska, a member of the Central 2B League, long considered the state’s best for fastpitch.
The Loggers followed up the victory with an appearance at the state tournament.
In the rematch early this season, Ocosta turned the tables, winning 10-9 in nine innings. Kaylee Barnum and Raffelson both had three hits and two RBI, while Fletcher drove in three runs against the current third-place squad out of the 2B Central League, which secured all four state playoff slots out of the district last season.
Last year’s 2B state championship featured an all-Central League finals with Toutle Lake edging Adna, 9-8, to claim the title. It marked the ninth consecutive year and 11th time over the last 12 years the state champion hailed from the Central.
“The 2B Central is always the measuring stick,” Barnum said. “I think the win over Onalaska showed just how far this team has improved. I think it showed the team their hard work is starting to pay off and we can play with teams from that league. Our goal this year is to make our first trip to state. Our district has five spots this year. We want to be one of them.”
The Wildcats close out the regular season by hosting Onalaska on May 8. The 2B Southwest District 4 tournament begins on May 15 at Fort Borst Park in Centralia with the top five finishers advancing to the state tournament at the Gateway Sports Complex in Yakima.
“We’re trying to build something special here,” said Barnum, who cited volunteer coaches Jim Snider and Erik Hopfer as two large reasons for the team’s success. “We have great support from the parents and the volunteers, and a great group of players who are committed to making that happen.”